Mini-Reviews: Spirit Hunters, A Dash of Trouble, & All My Friends Are Ghosts

Spirit Hunters by Ellen Oh
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: July 25, 2017
Source: Borrowed

We Need Diverse Books founder Ellen Oh returns with Spirit Hunters, a high-stakes middle grade mystery series about Harper Raine, the new seventh grader in town who must face down the dangerous ghosts haunting her younger brother. A riveting ghost story and captivating adventure, this tale will have you guessing at every turn!

Harper doesn’t trust her new home from the moment she steps inside, and the rumors are that the Raine family’s new house is haunted. Harper isn’t sure she believes those rumors, until her younger brother, Michael, starts acting strangely. The whole atmosphere gives Harper a sense of déjà vu, but she can’t remember why. She knows that the memories she’s blocking will help make sense of her brother’s behavior and the strange and threatening sensations she feels in this house, but will she be able to put the pieces together in time?

I don’t have very many thoughts on Spirit Hunters, aside from it being a lot spookier than I’d expected when I picked up a middle grade book! It left me, a fully grown adult, more than a little bit spooked. Harper is put into some intense and dramatic situations, and the book does not shy away from describing them in full detail.

Overall, I thought this book was really fun. I appreciated the diversity and the talk of accepting things that you might not understand. I don’t necessarily feel the need to read this book’s sequel, but I think it’s a great example of MG horror.


A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Source: Borrowed

Leonora Logroño’s family owns the most beloved bakery in Rose Hill, Texas, spending their days conjuring delicious cookies and cakes for any occasion. And no occasion is more important than the annual Dia de los Muertos festival.

Leo hopes that this might be the year that she gets to help prepare for the big celebration—but, once again, she is told she’s too young. Sneaking out of school and down to the bakery, she discovers that her mother, aunt, and four older sisters have in fact been keeping a big secret: they’re brujas—witches of Mexican ancestry—who pour a little bit of sweet magic into everything that they bake.

Leo knows that she has magical ability as well and is more determined than ever to join the family business—even if she can’t let her mama and hermanas know about it yet.

And when her best friend, Caroline, has a problem that needs solving, Leo has the perfect opportunity to try out her craft. It’s just one little spell, after all…what could possibly go wrong?

I thought that this book was really cute! I love that it took magic and baking and The Day of the Dead and mixed it with strong family relationships, but I did feel that the middle part of the book dragged. There were multiple moments where I wanted to yell at Leo to just tell someone what was going on so they could fix it!

I will acknowledge that I’m more than double this book’s target age range, though, so what was an issue for me might not be an issue for actual middle grade readers. Although I don’t feel any desire to continue on with the series, I would still recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun, magical MG novel.


All My Friends Are Ghosts by S.M. Vidaurri
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Source: Borrowed

Effie is lost and only feels like a ghost – till she discovers an actual ghost school in the nearby woods and begins an unforgettable journey of self-discovery.

Effie is lost, and feels like a ghost. She skips school because she doesn’t think anyone will notice, and doesn’t feel like she belongs, or that school offers her anything that she wants. Simply, she has stopped trying. One day, when she realizes no one will notice, she escapes from her every day life… and discovers a ghost school in the nearby woods. But just as she’s beginning to learn all about the amazing things that ghosts can do – like possession, poltergeist-ing, demon magic and more – Effie is asked by her new friends to help track down a mysterious spirit that’s been spotted. But if Effie’s going to succeed, she’ll not only have to show her friends that she’s got something special,but also learn to believe she’s got it too.

Award winning writer S.M. Vidaurri (Iron, Steven Universe) and artist Hannah Krieger (Psychic Mansion) present a new original graphic novel about discovering what makes you special and helping others be seen for who they are.

Finishing out my three supernatural middle grade books is a graphic novel about a girl who befriends a bunch of ghosts. It’s very rare for me to say that a book is too fast-paced, but this was way too fast-paced. We jumped from one thing to another so quickly and so frequently that I wasn’t able to form any attachments to the characters or have any emotional reactions to the plot.

I think that the premise of the story is great. The art is a lot of fun. The theme of not giving up on your dreams is wonderful. The story just needed to be a little more developed and the pacing needed to be more even. This wasn’t necessarily bad, but it didn’t live up to my expectations, either.


Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Coraline, Dead Voices, & Ghost

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: Borrowed

The day after they moved in, Coraline went exploring….

In Coraline’s family’s new flat are twenty-one windows and fourteen doors. Thirteen of the doors open and close.

The fourteenth is locked, and on the other side is only a brick wall, until the day Coraline unlocks the door to find a passage to another flat in another house just like her own.

Only it’s different.

At first, things seem marvelous in the other flat. The food is better. The toy box is filled with wind-up angels that flutter around the bedroom, books whose pictures writhe and crawl and shimmer, little dinosaur skulls that chatter their teeth. But there’s another mother, and another father, and they want Coraline to stay with them and be their little girl. They want to change her and never let her go.

Other children are trapped there as well, lost souls behind the mirrors. Coraline is their only hope of rescue. She will have to fight with all her wits and all the tools she can find if she is to save the lost children, her ordinary life, and herself.

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author Neil Gaiman will delight readers with his first novel for all ages.

I was looking through Overdrive for a quick audiobook to listen to at work and came across Coraline. As a big fan of the movie, and having really enjoyed Gaiman’s narration of Norse Mythology, I figured I might as well give it a shot.

The book is very, very much like the movie. That’s a good thing. The movie is just the right amount of dark and creepy, and so is the book. The Other Mother, as I get older, is an even creepier character. I can totally understand Coraline’s feelings and motivation for going over to that other side, and despite already knowing how everything would end, it was still so creepy to hear about the subtle differences in the Other Mother’s house.

Coraline has just made me want to find more Gaiman books to love.

#wian20: a given/first name


Dead Voices by Katherine Arden
Series: Small Spaces #2
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Bestselling author Katherine Arden returns with another creepy, spine-tingling adventure in this follow-up to the critically acclaimed Small Spaces.

Having survived sinister scarecrows and the malevolent smiling man in Small Spaces, newly minted best friends Ollie, Coco, and Brian are ready to spend a relaxing winter break skiing together with their parents at Mount Hemlock Resort. But when a snowstorm sets in, causing the power to flicker out and the cold to creep closer and closer, the three are forced to settle for hot chocolate and board games by the fire.

Ollie, Coco, and Brian are determined to make the best of being snowed in, but odd things keep happening. Coco is convinced she has seen a ghost, and Ollie is having nightmares about frostbitten girls pleading for help. Then Mr. Voland, a mysterious ghost hunter, arrives in the midst of the storm to investigate the hauntings at Hemlock Lodge. Ollie, Coco, and Brian want to trust him, but Ollie’s watch, which once saved them from the smiling man, has a new cautionary message: BEWARE.

With Mr. Voland’s help, Ollie, Coco, and Brian reach out to the dead voices at Mount Hemlock. Maybe the ghosts need their help–or maybe not all ghosts can or should be trusted.

Dead Voices is a terrifying follow-up to Small Spaces with thrills and chills galore and the captive foreboding of a classic ghost story.

Let me tell you something — I love this series. Ollie, Coco, and Brian are back in a ski trip gone awry, this time facing some spooky ghosts instead of creepy scarecrows. The book was just the right amount of creepy for me, enough to keep me on my toes but not so much that I felt genuinely scared. (That said, I have no spooky tolerance and this is middle grade.)

I love how, in this series, Ollie, Coco, and Brian have to work together and trust each other to make it out of these crazy situations. In this book, the characters aren’t sure what’s real and what’s coming from the haunting, and that, to me, made this book a little spookier than its predecessor. They had to use their knowledge of each other (and their wits) to figure out the best thing to do with everything that was thrown at them.

I really never thought I’d enjoy a middle grade series so much, but I can’t wait for the next book.


Ghost by Jason Reynolds
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 30, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Running. That’s all that Ghost (real name Castle Cranshaw) has ever known. But never for a track team. Nope, his game has always been ball. But when Ghost impulsively challenges an elite sprinter to a race — and wins — the Olympic medalist track coach sees he has something: crazy natural talent. Thing is, Ghost has something else: a lot of anger, and a past that he is trying to outrun. Can Ghost harness his raw talent for speed and meld with the team, or will his past finally catch up to him?

You know, this is my third Jason Reynolds book, and I have yet to connect with his writing. Objectively, I can recognize that a lot of young kids can probably see themselves in Ghost. He’s experienced things no kid should experience, he’s angry about it, and he wants to be a good kid but things just seem to happen around him. He’s a very well-written, well-rounded character.

I just feel like this was a lot to shove into a book that’s not even 200 pages. By the end, nothing felt very… resolved. I realize there are three more books in the series, but they’re focusing on other characters. I had planned to read the rest of the series, but I’m probably not going to enjoy it, so I’m just going to stop here.

As a series opener, there’s nothing wrong with this book. It just wasn’t for me.


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Dear Sweet Pea, Small Spaces, and The Lightning Thief

Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Source: Borrowed

The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

This was my first book by Julie Murphy, and I really enjoyed it! I only picked it up because of a reading challenge but I ended up really enjoying it. I’d been a little skeptical of her books because of all the hype, but I’m definitely planning on trying out her YA novels now.

Sweet Pea was a really charming character and I liked all of the casual diversity — I think that’s so important in books, and books for younger kids in particular. It tackles some big topics like divorce and homophobia, but it does it in a really natural way. I did feel that some things were resolved a little too easily, but then again, this is middle grade and less than 300 pages, so all in all, it was pretty great.

#ps19: a book with a title that contains “salty,” “sweet,” “bitter,” or “spicy”


Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
Source: Borrowed

New York Times bestselling adult author of The Bear and the Nightingale makes her middle grade debut with a creepy, spellbinding ghost story destined to become a classic

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn’t think–she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with “the smiling man,” a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she’s been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn’t have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie’s previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. 

Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver’s warning. As the trio head out into the woods–bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them–the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: “Avoid large places. Keep to small.” 

And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins.

I hadn’t actually planned to read Small Spaces when I did, but it was available at the library, I had finished my other audiobooks, and I remembered Kristen recommending it, so I decided to go for it. It was really good! This is the kind of creepy, spooky story that would be perfect for Halloween.

Just like with Julie Murphy, this was my first book by Katherine Arden. Since I’m pretty picky about MG books, I’m taking it as a really good sign that I liked this! I’m excited to eventually read her YA series.


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: March 1, 2006
Source: Borrowed

Percy Jackson is a good kid, but he can’t seem to focus on his schoolwork or control his temper. And lately, being away at boarding school is only getting worse – Percy could have sworn his pre-algebra teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. When Percy’s mom finds out, she knows it’s time that he knew the truth about where he came from, and that he go to the one place he’ll be safe. She sends Percy to Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for demigods (on Long Island), where he learns that the father he never knew is Poseidon, God of the Sea. Soon a mystery unfolds and together with his friends—one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena – Percy sets out on a quest across the United States to reach the gates of the Underworld (located in a recording studio in Hollywood) and prevent a catastrophic war between the gods.

Over the years, so many people have told me to read the Percy Jackson books. Multiple children have told me that this is their favorite series, and I can understand why. This book is a lot of fun. It has a quest, it has betrayal, it has mythology. I can see how Percy would be easy to relate to.

The problem was that I just didn’t care.

I’m not really sure if this was a problem with me not typically loving middle grade stories or if it was more that the hype killed this book for me, but I don’t really feel like continuing on with it. I will, however, try out The Lost Hero.

#ps19: a book with at least 1,000,000 ratings on Goodreads


Have you read any of these books? Have you read any good MG recently?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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Mini-Reviews: Recent DNFs

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably seen me talk about how rarely I DNF books. It happens, at most, a couple times a year. But when I get in a DNF-ing mood, I really get into it. I DNFed three books in one day recently, and here’s why.

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Source: Borrowed

Talk about an embarrassing introduction. On her first day of law school, Kailyn ran – quite literally – into the actor she crushed on as a teenager, ending with him sprawled on top of her. Mortified to discover the Daxton Hughes was also a student in her class, her embarrassment over their meet-cute quickly turned into a friendship she never expected. Of course, she never saw his betrayal coming either…

Now, eight years later, Dax is in her office asking for legal advice. Despite her anger, Kailyn can’t help feeling sorry for the devastated man who just became sole guardian to his thirteen-year-old sister. But when her boss gets wind of Kailyn’s new celebrity client, there’s even more at stake than Dax’s custody issues: if she gets Dax to work at their firm, she’ll be promoted to partner.

The more time Kailyn spends with Dax and his sister, the more she starts to feel like a family, and the more she realizes the chemistry they had all those years ago is as fresh as ever. But will they be able to forgive the mistakes of the past, or will one betrayal lead to another?

I’ve previously read one other book by Helena Hunting (I Flipping Love You) and I thought it was fun! I’d seen a lot of good things about Meet Cute, and it sounded just like the kind of book I’d enjoy.

Well, I didn’t. I made it to 7% before I quit.

There’s nothing overtly wrong with this book. It’s just not for me. Kailyn is a grown woman practicing law and she still spends an inordinate amount of time obsessing over one small event from college. There’s nothing sexy about her love interest other than, I guess, he’s supposed to be really hot?

I don’t know, I just couldn’t get into this story or these characters.


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 9, 2016
Source: Borrowed

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

I checked this book out from the library because it sounded so interesting and I figured the whole “moon” thing would make it count for one of my reading challenges. Well, I made it a whopping 5% into this one before I gave up.

This is the kind of book I would have probably loved as an actual middle grader. As an adult, not so much. Much like with Meet Cute, there wasn’t anything wrong with this book. I just didn’t like it.

#ps19: a book with a zodiac sign or astrology term in the title


Ziggy, Stardust and Me by James Brandon
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: August 6, 2019
Source: ARC via publisher

The year is 1973. The Watergate hearings are in full swing. The Vietnam War is still raging. And homosexuality is still officially considered a mental illness. In the midst of these trying times is sixteen-year-old Jonathan Collins, a bullied, anxious, asthmatic kid, who aside from an alcoholic father and his sympathetic neighbor and friend Starla, is completely alone. To cope, Jonathan escapes to the safe haven of his imagination, where his hero David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust and dead relatives, including his mother, guide him through the rough terrain of his life. In his alternate reality, Jonathan can be anything: a superhero, an astronaut, Ziggy Stardust, himself, or completely “normal” and not a boy who likes other boys. When he completes his treatments, he will be normal—at least he hopes. But before that can happen, Web stumbles into his life. Web is everything Jonathan wishes he could be: fearless, fearsome and, most importantly, not ashamed of being gay.

Jonathan doesn’t want to like brooding Web, who has secrets all his own. Jonathan wants nothing more than to be “fixed” once and for all. But he’s drawn to Web anyway. Web is the first person in the real world to see Jonathan completely and think he’s perfect. Web is a kind of escape Jonathan has never known. For the first time in his life, he may finally feel free enough to love and accept himself as he is.

A poignant coming-of-age tale, Ziggy, Stardust and Me heralds the arrival of a stunning and important new voice in YA. 

Of the three books I DNFed, this is the one I wanted to like the most. I’d really been looking forward to this book and even did an interview with the author. But after reading this book for more than a month and only making it to 28%, I had to be honest with myself. I was not enjoying it.

To be fair, I’m not sure this is really the kind of book that you enjoy reading. It’s about conversion therapy, bullying, and an alcoholic parent. It’s really heartbreaking and it’s just not something that I need in my life right now.

I didn’t really get along with the writing style either. I didn’t mind it at the beginning of the book, but as it continued on, it just got to be way too much for me. Like, when Jonathan slams a door, the description is “whambamthankyouma’amSLAM.” Too much.

A lot of people have rated this book highly, but it wasn’t for me.


Have you read any of these books? What’s the last book you DNFed?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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ARC Review: Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi

Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: AmazonTBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: September 3, 2019
Source: ARC from BookCon

After a year of college, Pablo is working at his local twenty-four-hour deli, selling overpriced snacks to brownstone yuppies. He’s dodging calls from the student loan office and he has no idea what his next move is.

Leanna Smart’s life so far has been nothing but success. Age eight: Disney Mouseketeer; Age fifteen: first #1 single on the US pop chart; Age seventeen, *tenth* #1 single; and now, at Age nineteen…life is a queasy blur of private planes, weird hotel rooms, and strangers asking for selfies on the street.

When Leanna and Pab randomly meet at 4:00 a.m. in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn, they both know they can’t be together forever. So, they keep things on the down-low and off Instagram for as long as they can. But it takes about three seconds before the world finds out… 

In case you weren’t already aware, Mary H.K. Choi’s Emergency Contact is one of my favorite books. From the characters to the message to the excellent texting, I loved everything about it. Permanent Record was at the top of my most anticipated list for 2019, and I was lucky enough to get an ARC while at BookCon.

This book was not Emergency Contact, Part Two. Part of the blame is on me for thinking it would be. But instead of loving this book, I was really, really disappointed in it. So disappointed that I’m really just sad thinking about it. I won’t get into any spoilers in this review, but here are some bullet point reasons why I didn’t like this book:

  • The slang. In Emergency Contact, Penny and Sam talked like actual teenagers. In Permanent Record, the amount of slang Pab and Lee use is almost embarrassing. Nobody talks like that. Nobody.
  • The lack of responsibility. I get that it’s one of the main conflicts of the book, but I could not get over how literally every single one of Pablo’s problems could be solved if he’d just take some responsibility for his actions. You can’t ignore your problems until they go away, Pablo!! Life doesn’t work like that!!
  • I didn’t really see a point to it? I slogged through all 417 pages of this book only to get a non-ending. That’s not even mentioning how bored I was the entire time I was reading this book.

Am I mad that I took the time to read this book? I guess not. Did I enjoy it even a little bit? No. I’m just disappointed, but since I loved Emergency Contact so much, I’m still planning to read whatever Mary H.K. Choi publishes next.


Have you read Permanent Record? Is it on your TBR?
Let’s talk in the comments!

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